The Washington state Department of Health is advising residents to take precautions if they encounter a bat after the state experienced a record number of rabies cases in the species this August.
Twelve bats, found across Washington in homes and parks, have tested positive for rabies since Aug. 1, according to a press release from the department. None were found in Whitman County, but four tested positive in Spokane County.
Those are the highest August numbers in a decade, bringing the total number of rabid bats in Washington to 21 this year, up from 20 in 2016 and nine in 2015.
While the department said it is unclear whether increased public awareness caused the increase in identified bats, it said many members of the public have taken the initiative to alert local health officials when they or their pet encounter a bat. The number of bats submitted for testing in August was higher than in years past.
Whitman County Public Health Director Troy Henderson told the Daily News a scorching summer may have contributed to those submission numbers as they often have a difficult time in hot temperatures. Many bats either try to enter people’s homes to cool off or die from heat stress.
“There’s no doubt the heat plays a role,” Henderson said.
The nocturnal creatures are the primary animal that carry rabies in the state. The Washington State Public Health Laboratories tests between 200 and 300 bats per year, typically identifying between 3 and 10 percent of them as rabid.
Across the border in Idaho, the state is so far experiencing a decrease in rabid bats this year from last year. The Idaho Bureau of Laboratories has identified 13 so far; none from Latah County. There were 20 rabid bats identified in Idaho in 2016 and 10 in 2015.
The WSDOH has advised residents to take appropriate precautions if a bat is found, whether it is dead or alive.
“If you suspect that a family member or pet has had contact with a bat, do not touch the bat and call your local health department for next steps,” the department said.
Those who believe their pet has been exposed should observe their pet for 10 days to check for symptoms, Henderson said.
All in all, he said, bats should be left to themselves.
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